See news analysis on A6. - Iraqi Premier Saadoun Hammadi said Thursday his war-battered nation will move toward greater democracy and confirmed an agreement in principle with a Kurdish rebel delegation on autonomy for Kurds in northern Iraq, Iraq's official INA news agency reported.
Hammadi said Iraq wants to begin a new chapter in its history and introduce a constitution based on democratic pluralism, thus allowing multiparty elections for the first time since the Baathists took power 28 years ago.The Shiite Iraqi premier's remarks came one week after he pledged to allow the Iraqi people to decide the fate of President Saddam Hussein in national elections, and days after the powerful Revolutionary Command Council said it was reducing Saddam's executive powers.
Iraq is trying to persuade Western members of the United Nations Security Council to lift the economic sanctions imposed on the country after Iraq's Aug. 2, 1990, invasion of Kuwait. Hammadi implied his nation wants to improve relations with the West and with Arab nations and to begin exporting its crude oil as soon as possible.
The Iraqi news agency also quoted Hammadi as rejecting U.S. and British charges that Iraq gave the United Nations an incomplete list of its weapons of mass destruction.
In a related development, Iraqi Shiite opposition leaders expressed frustration Thursday over reports that Baghdad had agreed in principle to grant autonomy to Kurdish-dominated regions of northern Iraq.
A spokesman for the Tehran-based, outlawed Dawa Iraqi Shiite party warned that if Wednesday's agreement between Saddam and Kurdish guerrilla leader Jalal Talabani is signed, it would be a heavy blow to Shiite aspirations to overthrow the Baathists and bring democracy to Iraq.
Another Iraqi Shiite group, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, also based in Tehran and led by Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr Hakim, warned that an Iraqi-Kurdish agreement would split the Shiites and the Kurds, both of whom until recently were united in their endeavour to overthrow Saddam.
Talabani told reporters Wednesday in Baghdad the proposed agreement called for political pluralism, freedom of the press and human rights for the Kurdish minority.
The Kurdish guerrilla leader said the agreement is based on a March 1970 accord with the Baghdad government to grant Kurds self-rule, including the right to use the Kurdish language.
He said that when the agreement is signed, foreign troops should withdraw from northern Iraq, but he did not say if there were international guarantees for ensuring implementation of the agreement.
Kurdish rebels said earlier they did not trust Saddam's regime and would seek U.N. help to implement any accords.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds fled to the mountains along the Turkish and Iranian borders after Iraqi troops crushed a post-war Kurdish-led rebellion.
Talabani said the agreement should encourage Kurds to return to their homes.